The dark side of the whiteboard - My 'to do' list will go undone

6th August 2010 at 01:00

I have set myself some targets for the summer. By the end of August I intend to: shed half a stone (preferably off my thighs, ideally symmetrically); tile the kitchen floor; find the 10 missing Lord of the Flies essays; plan a differentiated scheme of work for AQA's new GCSE in English literature (or find one on TES Connect and pass it off as my own); remove the furry cucumber stumps from the back of the fridge; empty rat traps; pair odd socks; bin the laddered tights; climb Striding Edge (avoiding the principal and his posse); clear out the garage; weed the herbaceous borders; clip the sheep; visit Auntie Florence; win back my husband (or find a better one or become a lesbian), and spend some quality time with my daughter without the aid of Topshop, Warehouse or my chip and pin.

But I suspect that by the time I get to the end of the holiday, most of these tasks will remain undone. While I may manage to scrape a few protozoan life forms off the green sludge in my salad drawer, it's highly unlikely that I'll get around to levelling, tiling and grouting a kitchen floor that I only vacuum when I am expecting guests with inhalers. The list is just too extensive to accomplish in this short six-week summer break. What I need are some SMART targets which, as all reflective learners know, are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time limited. I'm certainly conscious of the latter, because while old Andrew Marvell may have suffered "time's winged chariot hurrying near", I've got the autumn term tailgating me up the M1, flashing its headlights and blaring La Cucaracha on a klaxon.

No, my problems - as ever - are with the notion of "attainable" and "realistic". I seem to have set myself a domestic challenge so epic in proportion that even Hercules would struggle to bring the job in on time. For this, I blame my school. For the past year they have been surreptitiously redefining the word "attainable" so it is now broadly synonymous with "never in a month of Sundays". To illustrate: last term our SMT mooted a level 7b as a "realistic" and "attainable" end-of-KS3 target for a Year 8 boy with ADHD, a history of truancy and the vocabulary range of a blue macaw. Is it any wonder that my grasp of reality is faltering? I have spent so long being Rumpelstiltskin, spinning straw into gold, I can no longer differentiate between fairytale objectives and the real thing - hence my impossible "to do" list.

This culture of setting overly ambitious targets is infecting every aspect of our lives. My dentist recently complained to me about the ridiculous "fill and drill" quota set by the NHS. Even the lowest ranks of the private sector are being driven by surreal pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey targets. My eldest has a summer job in a shoe shop, where he is required to sell one tube of "protective" shoe care cream for every two pairs of shoes he shifts. And there was me thinking the sales assistants were just being conscientious.

The sad thing is that unrealistic targets don't result in better dentists, finer teachers or tidier housewives. We may get shinier shoes and more fillings, but we're also dogged by a constant fear of failure. So I'm ditching my list and settling for a quick whiz round with the Hoover and a nice Cabernet Sauvignon in the middle of my dandelion lawn. Now that's what I call a smarter target.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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